Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for November, 2013

Goodbye Tanzania


How do you actually say goodbye to your home? I think I’ve reached the conclusion that you don’t. I mean I’ve never really said goodbye to England despite having been away for almost a decade and I’ve talked often about the fact that whichever country I am in I talk about ‘going home’, referring to the opposite one. So perhaps Tanzania (or rather East Africa) needn’t just be cut off completely. In this brave new world, this smaller boundary-blurred world, there can be a blend.

I am heading back to friends in the UK who have lived here and shared in this experience, and leaving friends behind who come from England originally and thus will travel through and come and visit. I am bringing furniture and artetfacts and photos and memories. We will have Skype and Viber and mobiles (though not post, not really!) and I will have to come back and visit family in Dar and Nairobi anyway so it’s not as though this is my last moment here.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much!
And yet… I cannot help but feel there is an ending here. It’s not the end, just an end and one that must take place to facilitate the next adventure and are honestly excited to face. But the past few days, as I’ve made it my reality instead of just a far of concept, have been tough. There is no question that my every day life is about to change dramatically and all the people and experiences that were a natural part of that, no longer will be – I think I am allowed to mourn that.

The weather in Mwanza has just slipped into rainy season and several wild night-time electrical storms, followed by torrential warm rains and grey days. This meant that (apart from Saturday night’s firework party)
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getting out on the lake and enjoying the city wasn’t quite going to plan. In some ways this worked well as it meant I simply didn’t have to face the goodbyes or the good stuff, but on Tuesday the skies cleared enough for sundowners at the Yacht Club and my head cleared enough to realise this was really happening.

Brightly kanga’ed ladies with bulging bags atop their heads sauntering down our weather beaten road; the smell of earth and rain in the air; children clamouring and clambering up mango trees to find the best fruit as it reaches ripeness; endless building work with no electricity or machinery; flame trees’ bursting red flowers; barking dogs; the bleats of the neighbour’s goat; the gentle irregular click of rainwater drying in intense sunshine on mabati; and the constant sweep-sweep-sweep of someone brushing at the dirt, are a background I now make foreground as I work to imprint it all carefully to my memory.

But it is friends and the everyday camaraderie of survival and overcoming difficulties that are the hardest part. It all began with the Yacht Club drinks;
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progressed to a beautiful boat ride in post-storm sunshine the following day


(huge thanks to Vicky and Don for that) where fish eagles purveyed the lake, impala scattered across Saa Nane island and monitor lizards ventured out to bask; followed by a fantastic lunch with some of my best girl friends; goodbye to our fantastic house staff where my Swahili stumbled at the number of things I wanted to thank them for and wish them; and my final flight out of Mwanza on Thursday morning. Each stage ended in tears! At each point there was someone important and amazing, someone I admired and was grateful to, to say goodbye to. And at each point the tears filled my throat and I never really said all that should be said.

But they knew, I know they knew, how much I’ve loved our adventures, my classes at Isamilo School, the plays, the 6th Form, Tofani Porini, International Award, craft fairs, movie nights, Charity Balls, singing with The Budgie Smugglers and The Mosquitoes, open mic nights, the safaris, the drinks and barbeques and laughs and tears and cups of tea and coffee; how much I’ve appreciated the help and the listening and the advice; and how I’ve loved sharing the celebrations and congratulations between us all.

This is a world of extremes though, and there are certainly things I won’t miss – at least not for a while! Ants in my kettle; being directed into a parking spot by someone who can’t drive and is standing in my blind spot; mosquito repellent; the sounds of crows ripping the air outside our bedroom; our disgusting spitting neighbor on the one side or the annoying one who beeps ten times when he gets to his gate (no matter what time of day or night)… oh I could go on, but who am I kidding?!

Lots of my Mwanza girls got together to get me a present when I left – and they came up with the ultimate idea. A Mwanza withdrawal symptoms treatment kit! It features everything comedy that might remind someone of there, without actually making them want to return! Items like revolting Blue Band margerine (widely reported to be one step away from the chemical formula for plastic!), toxic local ketchup, Africafe instant coffee, the sachets of locally brewed Konyagi (approx. 20p for those who can’t afford a bottle). But they also added lovely cards and notes, little paper-rolled beads, reminders of places I’ve loved and local beers and many, many other bits. What a fantastic zawadi.

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So, having left Mwanza on Thursday, I’ve spent the last two days in Dar getting the doctor’s clearance to fly and taking a ‘soft exit’, extracting slowly, from Mwanza first, then – tonight – from Tanzania kabisa. It’s 40 degrees in Dar es Salaam right now, the temperature drop tomorrow morning at Heathrow could be interesting (especially with my very limited plus size wardrobe!) but I know my family is meeting me and there are new baby twins to meet and friends I haven’t seen in quite a while.

The final hurdle: a tearful (guaranteed) goodbye to my amazing husband at the airport. I have to keep remembering I’m better off than so many expat wives – when he does finally join me, he’ll be staying. But a whole month suddenly seems a daunting prospect – hard to imagine that five years ago we hadn’t even met yet! Life does have a funny way of finding you the gems, if you’re brave enough to go along for the ride.

A big thank you and masses of love to all my Mwanza Peeps. I will see you all soon, somewhere along the way. Happy sunsets and safaris. Stay in touch x

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The expat extracts


So word is pretty much out now, but I haven’t officially shared it with you, readers. You see it’s one of those secrets that you are never quite ready to share because that makes it real. I mean we want it to be real, we’re excited about it, but there’s more to it than that… it’s also incredibly sad. You see, we’re leaving Tanzania.

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It’s for all the very best reasons – a great new job, baby on the way, we’re ready for some time in the first world, we’re exciting to have our baby in the same country as all its cousins. We are so excited to see family and old friends, to enjoy seasons, have supermarkets, etc. Plus I’m thrilled not to have to tough it out like all the other ex-pat mamas waiting to give birth in a foreign country without my partner, him arriving just in time for the birth (you hope) and then leaving you to it and flying out to return to work because you aren’t ready to return to Africa with the baby yet. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that I am very lucky not to have to face, because we’ll be able to be together in the UK now. But there is also such a lot to say goodbye to. This has been our lives. For eight years.

I won’t dwell on all there is to say goodbye to just yet, no doubt I’ll be doing plenty of that over the coming two weeks, but I did want to share a little of the process of an expat extraction. It’s such a mission, and in a country with no discernable systems or consistent rules it’s a nightmare!

Let me take for example, our two dogs. The process of getting them back to the UK has gone like this:
Micro chip (which had to be sent over from Dar, along with a scanner to make sure we’d done it correctly)
Rabies jab (also sent from Dar, had to be kept cold, the first one was too cold and got frozen and spoiled so we had to get another!)
Exactly 30 days later bloodwork to be taken by a recognised vet (we had to fly the vet in from Dar and then everyone wanted to see the vet while he was here in Mwanza so I had to co-ordinate 11 additional appointments over two days including accommodation, meals and transport!)
Meanwhile we secured dog boxes from the local security company, thanks to a very kind friend, but when we contacted the airline we discovered the European standards are different to the inter-African ones so had to start again. Having ordered (and paid plenty) for these we now needed a plan for getting them to Dar – the Mwanza to Dar airline won’t fly animals.
Once the vet has been (this week) we have to wait 90 days and then new tests can be done and the dogs can be flown out.
Just one problem we will both be gone in 90 days! So… Damien will drive the dogs to Dar (16hrs) next month whilst he’s still here, they will wait at his dad’s house for two months and then, assuming the past the final tests, they can finally be flown to Heathrow…where no doubt there will be another set of hurdles before we actually get them home!
I only hope that the rules don’t change before we manage to tick all the boxes!

And then there’s us. I have to go first. I have no warm clothes, in fact I barely have any clothes that fit me any more. I need to carry Christmas presents with me as our shipping will be too late for all that. I have to find a house – on my own, 7 months pregnant. I have to pick up my new car. I haven’t driven in the UK for nearly ten years – I’m used to dirt roads, goats, veering motorbikes, oblivious pedestrians and maximum speeds of around 50kmph. Now there will be slippery tarmac, high speeds, real rules and police you can’t persuade to go easy! I have to sign up to a new dr and tell some poor midwife that I have appeared as if from nowhere almost ready to give birth! I need to do antenatal classes and shop… a lot!

Meanwhile my lovely husband will be here for a whole extra month living in a great big house that is almost completely empty, working hard to ensure everything gets handed over smoothly and trying to help me choose our new home via email and skype!

It’s all just a little insane!

And then there’s our stuff!…

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When I first moved to Kenya I brought 10 boxes. When I moved to Tanzania I brought 25 boxes. Now we are leaving Tanzania with 100 boxes including bits of furniture, wedding presents, keepsakes and just everyday stuff that we’ll need in our new lives. It’s taken almost 6 weeks to pack it all – carefully bubble wrapping each item and then placing them into sawdust filled boxes; getting bubble wrap from Kenya; begging boxes from everywhere we can think of; buying endless tape. All the bending and lifting has nearly killed me – it hasn’t thanks to great friends and staff who have helped out (in particular Gerry and Musa this could not have been accomplished without you), but it has not been fun. Oh and every box must be listed with its contents in a typed document. BUT, and here’s the big ‘but’, it’s not really ok to pack it yourself. If you do, you don’t get the same level of insurance. Of course if you don’t you risk it being packed badly by the moving company and breaking on the way anyway! You can’t really win. All I can say is our boat had better stay afloat when we finally get it all into a container and onto a ship!

Plus we have the added complications of rainy season. Some of the stuff I’d already packed was temporarily outside at the end of last week when the first rains hit. Turns out cardboard packing is super absorbent! I’ve had to remove all the packing (which stank!) and I’m now in the process of repacking it all again – oh joy! More bubble wrap!

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Of course you don’t pack everything. There’s a lot that needs to be sold or donated or bequested to friends. Now this is a whole other side show. Postings on Facebook; open house sale days (I survived two of these); coordinating people who promise to pay you later; and planning for those who can’t collect their stuff until after you’ve gone because you need it – like the bed or the fridge; oven or last frying pan. It’s a juggling act of note!

Right now we’re living with barely any curtains, a borrowed fridge, minimal kitchenware, and no car – I sold mine last week!

I could go on. I haven’t even got to the events I’ve started to plan but now, sadly, won’t be here for and so need to hand over; the freelance work I have to wrap up; bank accounts that need closing; changing telephone numbers; and – of course – most of all the wonderful people we have to say goodbye to – friends, people we’ve worked with, our house staff.

It’s no mean feat leaving your life behind. When I did it initially, leaving the UK, I was leaving a life I knew I would return to, even if it was just for visits. I didn’t have to shut everything down so completely. Don’t get me wrong, we know we’ll be back in Kenya and Tanzania, we have family here and we belong here, but this will no longer be our lives. At least not for the foreseeable future. And that’s suddenly become overwhelmingly clear as I sat here and actually typed out all that has been weaving through our daily lives over the past 6 weeks.

There are some wonderful poems about how you never really Africa if you have loved it, and there’s no doubt this story isn’t over, but this chapter almost is. The next two weeks are going to be tough.

* * *

My favourite little snippet about leaving Africa:

Africa smiled a little when you left. “We know you,” Africa said, “We have seen and watched you, We can learn to live without you, But we know we needn’t yet.” And Africa smiled a little when you left. “You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said. … … … … “It is always with you,there inside your head. Our rivers run …in currents,in the swirl of your thumbprints; Our drumbeats, counting out your pulse, Our coastline, The silhouette of your soul.” So Africa smiled a little when you left. “We are in you,” Africa said. “You have not left us, yet.” …. Author: Unknown

* * *

AFRICA
When you have acquired a taste for the dust,
And the scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa,
And you’ll not be right again
Until you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark,
And know they are around you
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the elephants
Or hear the coucal’s song,
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire,
The you’ve been away too long.
It’s time to cut the traces loose,
And let your heart go free,
Beyond that far horizon
Where your spirit yearns to be.

Africa is waiting – come!
Since you have touched the open sky
And learned to love the rustling grass
And the wild fish eagle’s cry.
You’ll always hunger for the bush,
For the lion’s rasping roar,
To camp at least beneath the stars
And be at peace once more.


Part II – anniversary in the Serengeti


It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since our fairytale wedding in Naivasha last October, and yet so much has happened (not least the fact that I’m in my 6th month of pregnancy and would definitely no longer fit in my dress!).

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Nina and I got back from Zanzibar on the Friday night, just in time to repack and leave the following morning for our Serengeti celebrations (poor me, what a tough time I’ve been having!). We packed the top tier of our wedding cake, our bottle of messages marked ‘1’ (which people had been asked to write at our wedding party) and plenty of champagne and headed off into the Western corridor to stay at Kirawira, along the Grumeti river; the first place Damien and I stayed on our first ever safari together.

Most of the pictures do the talking so I’m not going to write a lot this time around.

Our drive through the Western corridor was a feast for the eyes as the migration had begun to gather back on the Tanzanian side and the plains were teaming with game.
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Pete spotted a crocodile nursery as we hopped out along the edge of the Grumeti River – that’s something I’d never seen before.

The rains have not yet really kicked in so, whilst the landscape is getting greener, the rivers are still pretty low and animals are drawn to the drinking spots wherever they can find them.

We stopped at a hippo viewing point for some champagne and smoked salmon sandwiches – as you do!

That afternoon we checked in to our camp for the night – a luxury tented camp with a real old colonial feel, four poster beds and views from your private wooden porch out across the plains. It was boiling so we headed for the pool before dinner.

We were thoroughly spoiled for the evening – with fantastic company, presents, all our 1 year anniversary messages from the bottle, a specially made cake (accompanied by singing of ‘Jambo, jambo bwana’ – a slightly cringy tourist song usually but we had to love the massive enthusiasm it was done with – and several other rousing African numbers!), more champagne and finally a room full of roses! It really was a treat.
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The following day everyone (except me) was a little worse for wear but we all made it to breakfast, past the zebras that had gathered to crop the good grass around our tents. The day was insanely hot; so much so that it melted the breakfast butter in minutes and actually cracked Damien’s windscreen! Luckily for me that meant it was too hot for our somewhat nauseous group to stay in the tents, no matter how luxury they were, so we had to climb into the aircon in Damien’s car and do an extended game drive on the way home – ah shame!

Plenty of animals showed up to distract the others from their pain so I was free to take plenty of pics! It seemed everyone had turned up to wish me goodbye: In just two weeks I’ll be in England registering with doctors and doing antenatal classes. Gonna miss the ‘geti!


Thanks lovely husband and fabulous friends for an amazing weekend.